Daniel Korski

What would the Tories take back from Europe?

What would the Tories take back from Europe?
Text settings

Assuming that the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, that the Conservative Party wins the next election and that Angela Merkel and Nicola Sarkozy want Britain to remain in the European Union, what “sovereignty package” will EU leaders come up with for Prime Minister Cameron, so that the Tory leadership can placate its eurosceptic base? The deal cannot be cosmetic, but make it too tough and other EU leaders will not want to compromise.

Tactically, David Cameron and William Hague will need to strike a balance between telling the public that even if Lisbon is ratified by the Poles and Czechs, a future Conservative government may still open the debate, call a referendum or renegotiate its terms of agreement - while saying privately to EU leaders that they would compromise under certain circumstances. But what could be in a “sovereignty package”?

First, David Cameron should demand the old blue passport back, which John Major gave up for the burgundy-coloured machine-readable EU passports. The change would not have any legal effect, but it could send an important signal, and provide the depleted Treasury coffers a limited source of income, as people switch to the old/new document.

Second, Britain could re-opt out of the social chapter and the Working Time Directive. But in truth, the former is less important after the eastern enlargement and the latter has already been secured by the Labour government. However, this will fulfil a manifesto commitment.

Third, the Tories could demand a cost-cutting agreement from the European Commission and the new President of the Council to reduce all EU institutional staff by at least 15 percent. In truth, this will have little effect. Contrary to what people think, the EU institutions are tiny. But again, it is worth doing to please the base.


Fourth, Britain could pull out of the European Security and Defence Policy; either entirely, as Denmark has, or parts of it such as the European Defence Agency. The Foreign Secretary can break with tradition and stop attending the monthly meetings of his EU colleagues. This is easy, but may undermine British efforts to get EU allies cooperating on defence. Though Liam Fox is otherwise convinced, the EDA does not procure weapons on behalf of Britain; however, as it is an intergovernmental area of cooperation, it is very easy to pull out of. How this sits with the party’s Balkans policy, where they want more EU, is hard to tell.

Fifth, the Tories could demand a big cut in the CAP budget and a transfer of the funds into science and technology. So far, the Tories have said they want to cap the EU budget at a maximum of 1 per cent of GNP, which might save Britain €1 billion a year, but it may be more realistic to shift money away from CAP and into more growth-focused areas.

This may not be the most tear-inducing repatriation of powers. It is hard to find a balance that will please all parties. A Tory government may also have to put a lot of energy into defending the status quo -– on financial regulation, competition etc. – areas in which many EU state would be happy to see back-sliding.